It only took a week for me to suspect that something was up. As a Sentinel, I was used to rapid, rapid deployments from A to B.
Even as a Ranger, we quickly moved from place to place when needed.
The lower level dwarves had similar levels to experienced Rangers, although the class quality and combat experience was less. Either way, the problem remained.
We shouldn’t be going this slowly!
Yaks weren’t exactly known for their high-speed moves, but as undignified as it was, there were a billion ways to go faster. Like, plain running. Or jogging.
I decided to politely ask about this.
“Hey Lule.” I asked one morning, as the dwarves were bustling around getting everything packed up. To my great confusion, they completely took down the lean-to as well, letting it “return to nature.”
To each their own, but it did explain why there weren’t a million lean-tos in various stages of decay all over the place.
“Healer Elaine the 94th.” Lule responded back, taking a few steps to be closer to me.
I looked around, seeing the other dwarves. I refrained from sighing. No way would we be getting some privacy. I’d try to be discreet about it though.
“Why are we moving so slowly?” I asked, mentally patting myself on the back for not accusing Lule of nefarious means. Diplomatic win!
I got a long stare, followed by her shoulders slumping.
“Ah, you got us.” Lule said, cheer returning to her voice. “We could’ve moved you faster, that’s true.”
Goosebumps rose all over my arms, as I mentally marked where each of the dwarves was, and their capabilities.
Ideally, I’d hit Ned first, and hit him hard – except I couldn’t, not if he wasn’t attacking me. The shadows meant that flying was almost impossible, although my higher regeneration was on.
Toke was almost literally in her element, those being Dark and Wood. Being in some dark woods, well…
“We just wanted to show you all the good things we have in Nolgrod! More practically, the faster we move, the harder it is to give you a proper escort, and proper protection. It also,” Lule lowered her voice into a conspiratorial hush, as I leaned over to hear better. “let us send a runner ahead to the capital, and give people more time to prepare for your arrival.”
She thought a moment more.
“We can try to pick up the pace, if you’d like?” She offered.
I relaxed massively at that, and stopped cataloguing threats. That was all perfectly reasonable.
I thought about it a moment, then shook my head.
“I leave the choice in your capable hands, Leader Lule the 89th.” I smiled at her.
If there was something more nefarious at hand – I felt well-equipped to handle it.
Seemingly satisfied, Lule moved on.
“Hey Lule. Can you tell me about a Tradition of yours?” I asked her. “I’m trying to know more, and I figure this is a good time to ask.”
“What do you want to know?” She asked back. “Usually takes us decades to figure them all out.” She said, chuckling at some private memory.
“I dunno. Anything?” I asked.
She looked thoughtful for a moment.
“I expect we’re going to be hunting at some point. We usually bury the head of the creatures we kill.” She said. “Shows respect, and helps them return to the cycle of nature.”
“Cool.” I said, not having much more to add.
We seemed to speed up a bit after that conversation. Our breaks were a little shorter, and we pushed a little further on both ends of the candle. Nobody seemed to mind.
The trees were starting to change though. First was the largest tree I’d ever seen. All seven of us touching hand-to-hand wouldn’t be enough to get around the girth of the tree, and it soared ever upwards, into the sky. Impossibly large, and yet, entirely mundane.
A redwood tree.
Of course, later that day, the tree was immediately replaced as “the largest tree I’d ever seen” when I saw an even larger redwood tree.
And they just kept getting bigger.
The hills that we were going over became larger and larger to boot – so slowly I hadn’t quite noticed it – but when we reached the top of one particularly large hill, I saw where we were heading.
A huge, sprawling mountain range was in front of us, coated with redwood trees.
No bets where we were headed!
Three days later, a miracle occurred. It started to snow!
Huge, lazy flakes started to come down from the sky, dancing on subtle breezes. They teased, swapping and exchanging positions, before gently and gracefully landing on the forest floor, where they quickly melted.
Tradition be damned, I’d only seen snow once since coming to Pallos, when it had been a particularly cold winter in Aquiliea, which was already near the southernmost portion of Remus. With a shout of glee, I hopped out of the cart, and started chasing snowflakes around with an open mouth, greedily trying to catch them with my tongue.
Some of the dwarves chuckled as I bounded around, intent on catching ALL THE SNOWFLAKES.
It was fun, although my gear got mud splattered all over it. Didn’t care! There were snowflakes to nom! Delicate structures to catch on my nose, and look at cross-eyed for a brief moment before it melted!
Shame that it was the first snow of the season, and none of it was going to stick. I would’ve loved to make a snow angel.
The thought of grabbing an Ice class for my 3rd class, whenever it happened, briefly flitted through my mind before I dismissed the idea. It would be a ton of fun, but "fun” wasn’t the primary goal of a third class.
Or... maybe it could be?
What I needed to do was get a scroll- or a book! - and start writing down all of my ideas for a 3rd class. Then talk with Artemis – and Night, Julius, and the rest of the Sentinels I guess – about it, and see what they thought.
Either way, even if I didn’t get Ice for my 3rd class, a vacation home somewhere snowy, where I could have snow if I wanted?
That sounded like a solid goal!
The pitfall of snow that I always forgot – cleaning up. Also, wet mud rapidly became cold mud, and while I loved snow to bits, I was, at heart, from a tropical and sub-tropical climate. Vitality helped, but I didn’t exactly have tens of thousands of points in the stat. As such, with my relatively lightweight gear, designed more towards keeping cool than staying warm, I wasn’t the happiest of campers.
Or I wouldn’t be, if it wasn’t for MAGIC! My armor had inscriptions woven throughout, and a relatively minor one that I’d forgotten about was some minor heating. Sure, it’d burn itself out soon enough, as all Inscriptions did without maintenance, but it’d help me stay warm.
Being a Radiance mage also helped me stay warm, as with some fine control, I carefully dried out most of my clothes. I could also use it on myself to try to get warm, although my [Radiance Resistance] made that a little difficult.
A muffled scream escaped my throat as I burned a hole through one of my socks though.
One of my socks – that I didn’t have a spare pair to replace it with. I’d been wearing them with sandals – HERESY! - because it was bloody cold, and comfort came before fashion.
Welp. At least I’d be fashionable now.
“Healer Elaine the 94th. Everything alright with ye?” Lule asked me, having heard my muffled scream.
My cheeks were red from the cold, which hid the blush of embarrassment. I just lifted my sock which had recently found religion, staring at Lule through the hole.
“Everything’s perfectly fine.” I said in the most monotone voice, as my eye stared at her through the hole.
She just laughed and walked away. Better than most reactions I could’ve gotten.
I spent the rest of the time drying out my stuff, and peeling dried mud off, cursing my decision not to go back and get my spare pair of socks when we’d left camp.
“Purlovia! We’re eating purlovia tonight!” Glifir eagerly bounded into the lean-to we’d set up for the night, a furry beast slung over one shoulder. From the angle I was at, it was hard to tell what the creature looked like.
He heaved, and with a thump, the body of the purlovia landed on the floor.
Fik was frowning intently at Glifir, who noticed his look and rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, I was getting to it.” His voice took a ritual tone, one I associated with Tradition.
“The hunter has come back with his prey! Yet, this could not have been done without the strength and support of the clan. As such, I give this back onto you. Who wishes to join me in this feast?”
“I wish to partake.” Fik said, way too fast.
“I wish to partake.” Each of the dwarves said, one at a time.
Welp. This one seemed to be easy mode.
“I wish to partake.” I added in, getting looks of approval all around.
“Do you have a skill to purify food?” Ned asked me.
I did a double-take.
“A food purification skill?” I repeated, somewhat dumbly.
Ned got that annoying superior look on his face that made me want to punch it.
“Aye. A skill that makes food safe to consume, no matter who eats it.” He smugly informed me, going over and touching the purlovia.
Ned was somewhat of an annoying git. He loved finding things I couldn’t do, then somehow mentioning that he had the skill, and would occasionally explain to me in excruciating detail how it worked, implying the whole time that I was a bad healer for not knowing it.
I had no idea why he treated me like that. Oh, there was nothing I could obviously point to, but we were never going to be good friends.
Maybe it was because of the generation thing? Ned being in the 92nd generation made him at least 50 years older than me, and probably a lot more. Could be as much as 149 years older than me – and I’d gotten to the same level as him, while being in the dead zone. Maybe he was just jealous?
Either way, I’d tolerate him for now, and hopefully wouldn’t see him again after this trip.
Toke took the purlovia outside, and started to skin and prep the meat.
There was no real rhyme or reason to who did what. It wasn’t like there were assigned tasks, although the dwarves fell into various roles naturally. Some of the dwarves stood out in my mind more than others.
Lule was, to no surprise, the organizer, making sure it all got done.
Fik avoided doing anything that wasn’t directly assigned to him.
Ned pitched in whenever Tradition let him. My estimation of him went up slightly – he wasn’t lazy, just hidebound.
Gilfir loved roaming around, and I was hoping he’d supplement our rations more often.
Toke always seemed to be in the right place, at the right time, for the highest-visibility job.
Drin was flat-out a hard worker. Did keep his mouth running permanently though.
My role was storyteller and VIP.
“Ever had purlovia before?” He asked me, and I shook my head.
“It’s OK. Pretty good for a game animal. Spicy.” He happily told me.
“Spicy!?” I whipped my head towards him, in complete disbelief.
“Aye. Spicy!” Drin happily told me. “Supposed to attract Snow Moths. Been trying to get one for my collection. They only come out in winter, with the snow, and I’m usually on border duty when it happens. Why, twenty years ago I had my chance! Almost managed to get one. You see, the problem I had was…”
Drin liked to talk. I was perfectly content to get him started on something, and just let him ramble along. However, there was one point that annoyed me to no end.
“…and best of all, Lightning can stun people!” Drin said, a trail of purlovia grease skating over his beard.
“I mean, sure, stunning someone is great, but why not just kill them?” I asked, more than a little skeptical – and wanting to defend Artemis’s methods. I did somewhat approve of his fanatical appreciation of Lightning though.
Given how long Drin would take to answer, I had enough time to get a nice, solid purlovia bite. I teared up at just how damn spicy it was, snot running out of my nose. However, after a literal lifetime of relatively bland food, even gamey food that was spicy was amazing.
“I mean, I do kill them!” Drin happily tapped on his axe, still at his waist. “But making someone completely stop for a moment or two takes almost no power or mana!”
“Ya still need a boatload of control!” Lule added in.
“One stat instead of four!” Drin retorted.
“Does it do no damage?” I asked, getting curious. It sounded a bit like what I’d suggested to Artemis ages ago – rip out the Lightning from the nervous system, and just stop someone dead. Quite literally.
“Doesn’t need to.” Drin muttered into his beard. “Wears off over time, good for spars.”
I noticed he didn’t mention taking prisoners, and with how much he loved to talk about the benefits of his method of fighting, there’s no way that was an oversight.
My bet? In spite of his high level, he’d gotten it the slow way, hundreds of years of sparring and minor conflicts, maybe some fights against beasts. Not a lot of experience trying, or needing, to kill other intelligent creatures.
“I’m kinda curious about it now. Can you disable me?” I asked.
Lule looked nervous at that, but I had everyone else’s attention.
“I’m warning you, it’s not pleasant.” Drin said.
I grinned at him.
“Oh go on, let me see!” I said, offering a hand.
He looked at Lule, who buried her head in her hands.
“Do what you must.” A pained noise came from her.
There was no winning from her point of view. Either she tries to ruin my fun – telling the VIP “no, don’t do that relatively harmless thing” – or the VIP is, technically, attacked by a teammate.
Drin touched my hand, and I rapidly pulled it back as I felt like I’d been zapped.
I waved my hand in the standard “that smarts” move. Mostly for show, because [Center of the Universe] killed the pain.
Drin was looking at me bug-eyed.
“How’d you stop it!” He asked, somewhat outraged.
“Wait, that was it?” I asked him.
“Try again?” I offered my hand back to him. Another zap, and I was still completely mobile.
Ned started laughing, and in a strangely familiar move, threw an arm around my shoulders.
“Drin, I’ve told you! Doesn’t work on us healers.” He grinned at me.
“Well, good healers.” He amended.
My happy thoughts towards him turned into mental daggers. He hadn’t said anything because he’d assumed I was a bad healer!
“Why don’t you lot pipe down? We’re arriving in Lundar tomorrow.” Lule said, relief on her face.
“Healer Elaine hasn’t even told us a story yet!” Toke protested.
I winked at Lule.
“Alright! One story!” I said, searching my memory for a nice, short story. Everyone wins!